How to Be a Good Manager of Creative Professionals

By Robert Half October 17, 2017 at 10:00am

If you’re looking to move your creative career forward, becoming a manager can represent an important milestone. Here are some new manager tips to help you not just survive but thrive.

The first time I became a manager was equal parts exciting and nerve-wracking. I got promoted, and overnight I became responsible for managing key projects as well as the team members I had previously worked alongside at a consumer PR agency. Moving from peer to boss was challenging. While I was excited about my new responsibilities, figuring it all out was tricky. Having a new title and job description is one thing, but being adept at leading a team requires keen soft skills and some trial-and-error experimentation. A big part of the challenge comes from managing varied personalities, as different people respond best to different leadership styles.

If you’re new to leading a creative team, here are some tips on how to be a good manager:

Understand what success looks like

Your first priority is to understand the big picture. Make sure you’re clear on the overall organizational goals and what your creative staff is expected to accomplish. This requires input from your boss and other higher-ups, so be proactive and solicit insights and direction. When you have a firm grasp on the most important objectives and deliverables, you can take strategic steps to put your employees in position to knock their respective assignments out of the park.

Assess your team

Do an informal assessment of your team members. If you’re relatively new to both management and your company, it’s helpful to gather thoughts from your boss or other managers who’ve worked with your creative team. Doing so will help clarify the group dynamics, opportunities and challenges you may need to navigate or address.

Carefully review organizational charts and job descriptions, and also take time to more fully understand your team members’ roles, responsibilities, levels of experience, interests and professional development needs. Reviewing recent performance evaluations can be instructive, but make a concerted effort to get to know each direct report directly.

Determine your own strengths and weaknesses

Before you can allocate the right resources or people to creative projects it’s important to analyze the skills and shortcomings of each employee (see point above). During your early weeks on the job, it’s also more important to conduct an honest and thorough self-assessment to identify your management strengths and weaknesses. This type of self-reflection can be uncomfortable and humbling, but it’s critical to identify areas where you need to improve. Remember: There’s no such thing as a perfect manager.

Also, regardless of what your weaker areas may be, keep in mind that there is an abundance of resources for leadership development that you can explore, such as management books and podcasts, professional courses (online and off) and in-house training if your company offers it. Here are a few posts on common management concerns.

Lead by example

It’s vital to practice what you preach if you want to earn the trust, respect and loyalty of employees. Your team members will look to you to set the tone for how the creative group operates. While you’re not a robot, and everyone has good days and bad days, it’s important to maintain a positive, professional attitude at work as an overarching philosophy. Acknowledge the contributions and achievements of others, and give praise when it’s due.

Leading by example also means taking responsibility for your actions (and your team’s actions) when things aren’t going well. As a manager, you’re required to hold people accountable — and the same applies to you. The buck ultimately stops with you now. Be consistent in how you manage your team and don’t play favorites.

In addition, establish a culture of good communication. Strive to be crystal-clear when communicating with staff members individually or during meetings. Don’t leave messages open to interpretation, and make sure your employees feel heard. Be an open and observant listener.

Plan to address some conflicts

Often the hardest parts of being a leader is dealing with conflict. I always keep an open door for any concerns, but I also encourage team members who encounter an interpersonal problem to come to me with a potential solution.

Resolving conflict also requires an understanding of when to intervene and when to back off. While you don’t want your creative staff running to you every time a trivial tiff occurs, you can’t afford to ignore friction once it starts damaging morale and productivity.

As a new manager, you obviously want to start strong, but remember that it’s not your job to please everyone all the time. Work on these strategies and you’ll be well on your way to carving out a reputation as someone who creative people want to work for.

Octavia Goredema is the founder and editor of Twenty Ten Talent, a career resource for talented young black women. Find her on Twitter at @OctaviaGoredema.

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